Treating would be nothing without the tricks. And Halloween wouldn’t be fun without a scare or two. That’s the allure of the terrifying tales that circulate around Halloween and have taken on legendary status. Still, some of the 175 million Americans who celebrate this spooky holiday do take the Halloween pranks too far. And hey, you can never be too careful, right? Technically, yes. But chances are, those Halloween stories are just that—stories. Well, most of the time, anyway. Here’s the truth behind some popular and pervasive Halloween-based urban legends.
A lunatic has hidden razor blades in apples
You heard it when you were a kid, and if you’re a parent now, you probably give the same warning to your own children: Be careful what you eat on Halloween, because it might cut your mouth to shreds! Thankfully, that’s very unlikely to happen. Booby-trapped treats are largely an urban legend. Joel Best and Gerald T. Horiuchi assert in their scholarly paper, The Razor Blade in the Apple: The Social Construction of Urban Legends, that these threats to children and their Halloween candy are highly overblown. In fact, most of the alleged incidents turned out to be hoaxes. There have been a few cases—which, yes, is frightening—but the majority of those were actually pranks. For more scary stories, check out the spookiest urban legends in every state.
A real murderer is behind that Ghostface mask
First, there was Michael Myers. Then there was Jason. Then, nearly two decades later, Wes Craven’s horror smash Scream presented us with a new, instantly recognizable villain: Ghostface. And, of course, Halloween became a prime time to wear that mask—and for people to worry whether a real murderer was hiding behind one of them. After all, if everyone is wearing one, how can you know who poses a threat to you? It turns out that there may actually be something to this myth. According to Newsweek, there were indeed a handful of murders after Scream came out that were apparently inspired by the movie. In one, the killer wore a Ghostface mask while brutally stabbing his victim with kitchen knives. The bottom line: You never know who is behind a mask, but thankfully, it’s usually just a harmless trick-or-treater.
Your kid’s candy could be laced with drugs or poison
Chances are, your crazy neighbor isn’t tampering with children’s candy on Halloween. This myth really took hold in the 1980s, when someone put cyanide in the Tylenol on store shelves. Even though it was an unrelated incident, experts theorize that this Halloween-candy fear evolved as a way for parents to teach their children to be aware of stranger danger and to pay more attention to their surroundings. Vice interviewed “Halloween sadism” scholar Joel Best about the drugs-in-the-candy legend and found that in the very few cases when it actually happened (and yes, it actually happened), weird neighbors usually weren’t responsible. In one case, a child actually died of a congenital heart defect. And in another, a father poisoned his own son in order to collect on a life insurance policy. Still, it’s a good idea to make sure your kids only eat candy that comes in a sealed and unopened wrapper.
Those temporary tattoos aren’t safe either
Kids aren’t supposed to indulge in Halloween candy—or assorted Halloween fun? Good grief. According to this urban legend that’s been around since the 1970s, drug dealers have put LSD into temporary tattoos. The reasoning: They’re trying to get new customers by tricking unsuspecting kids into trying the drug. Another variation on this tale adds that the LSD is laced with the deadly poison strychnine. According to Snopes, there has never been a verified case of this actually happening, even though some schools occasionally send out warnings when the rumors resurface. If you love a good scare, you won’t want to miss out these 13 wonderfully spooky ghost stories.
The apples you’re bobbing for have been poisoned
Bobbing for apples is an old-school Halloween tradition. Originally, it was a kind of matchmaking game for young women. According to History.com, there were several variations of the game in which a woman would supposedly learn the fate of her love life based on which apple she picked. But much like the poison-in-the-candy and razor-blade-in-the-apple myths, it became laden with its own frights. If you’re bobbing for apples today, you shouldn’t be concerned with the urban legend of poisoned apples—but you might want to worry about the bacteria and germs in the water. Generally, though, it’s a pretty safe activity. If you’re not into bobbing for apples, check out this list of 25 Halloween party games to get you in the spooky spirit.
You will summon Bloody Mary by saying her name three times
Say her name three times as you gaze directly into the mirror and she will appear! Admit it, you tried this at least once in your childhood, either on Halloween or on another random night when you were having a sleepover. You waited for the ghoulish figure to show up to scare you or even to hurt you…but, of course, she never did. We probably don’t need to spell this out, but there is no ghostly Bloody Mary.
According to Snopes, kids between the ages of 9 and 12 are particularly fascinated by legends like this because it’s a safe way to get a vicarious thrill and also release some anxiety. There was actually a real (and terrifying) Bloody Mary, but she’s not at the root of this urban legend. The nickname belongs to Queen Mary I of England, who burned hundreds of Protestants at the stake. Learn the chilling history of these other 15 Halloween traditions.
Killer clowns are on the loose
Clowns have always been both a source of amusement and fear. The fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, is actually a common phobia among adults. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was dubbed “the Killer Clown” because he sometimes dressed as a clown during town events, is one reason that people may find clowns disturbing and threatening. Stephen King’s It certainly didn’t help clowns’ images either. But there’s more to it than that. Experts believe the fear of clowns may be due to the uncanny valley effect, in which people find things that “look human but aren’t quite there” extremely unsettling. To make things even scarier, in 2016, there was a strange outbreak of creepy clown sightings, from New York all the way to Florida. Some incidents were just plain creepy, while others reportedly involved full-fledged attacks.
Kidnappers are out in full force on Halloween
The truth: Kids aren’t at a greater risk of being kidnapped on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year. But it has happened, and those cases tend to get a lot of media attention. The fear of kidnappers on Halloween night has become so strong that it has inspired a new tradition: trunk-or-treat. Huffington Post Canada reports that church groups were the first to start the trunk-or-treat activity, which limits trick-or-treating to a closed environment and subsequently makes the tradition safer for kids. Of course, parents can also trick-or-treat with their children to make sure they stay safe. Either way, if you have kids, make sure to check out these 10 trick-or-treating safety tips.
That Halloween decoration is a real dead body
This urban legend persists not just because people are splurging on expensive decorations but because it has some real-life backup. Thought Catalog details a number of stories in which people thought they were looking at a fake body but instead were looking at an actual victim of murder, suicide, or accidental death. As awful and tragic as those stories are, they are rare. The overwhelming majority of the time, those lifelike decorations are thankfully just decorations.
Satanists sacrifice black cats on Halloween
The problem with this urban legend is that it’s based on a number of partial truths and inconclusive claims. In ancient and medieval times, some ritual sacrifices supposedly involved cats and other domestic animals. And black cats have long been associated with bad luck and witchcraft. These days, however, there’s no indication (and definitely no proof) that Satanic cults are roaming the streets, looking for black cats to sacrifice on Halloween or any other day.
Still, some animal-adoption agencies believe that there is a rise in cat-related deaths and mutilations around the holiday and have subsequently banned black-cat adoptions until after it’s over. Another alleged problem: people buying black cats on impulse around Halloween or as holiday “props.” That said, animal experts say that you should worry more about the dangers that Halloween treats pose to your furry friends. Chocolate and candy sweetened with xylitol, for example, can be toxic to them. Next up: Check out these 13 ways Halloween is celebrated around the world.